Pro Tips for Plate-Up Proficiency in Hotel Events
Elevated efficiency in plating up restaurant-style dishes for banquets.
Almost every hotel that hosts large groups has an option for plated meals, but not every property has a system in place to ensure the consistency and quality on each plate reach attendee tables intact.
At the twin-tower, 1,628-room Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego—the largest hotel in Southern California—Executive Chef Sutti Sripolpa and his team execute plated menus for up to 4,000 people. Sripolpa has plenty of plate-up proficiency from more than two decades in the industry, with stops at MGM Grand Las Vegas and multiple Hyatt properties along the way. Here, he details the finer points of plate-up perfection.
Size and Speed
Sripolpa says the number of attendees combined with how many items are designated for each plate will dictate the labor and timeframe to execute a plated menu properly. “We have to be very organized before each plate-up, knowing exactly how many items we’re putting on the plate, and then break down the timing for how much staff we need to meet our deadline. We usually assign one cook per item on the plate, and ideally we’ll have five items for a really large event, and seven for a dual entrée dinner. We can’t have 15 things on a plate and expect it to go out on time, especially for groups of 2,000 or more.”
Conveyor belts are Sripolpa’s secret weapon to process plate-ups efficiently. With a cook assigned per item, “it takes seven minutes to plate for 100 people using a conveyor belt, depending on how we program the speed, and we have four belt machines at the hotel, so we can really cut down the time when all four are in action. We also position a person from stewarding at the end of each table to put each finished plate right into a transport cart,” he says.
The protein/vegetable/starch/sauce/garnish template for plated dinners is the standard in the industry, but today’s client expects a wow-inducing restaurant-style presentation, rather than the old-school cafeteria look that birthed the rubber chicken/mashed potatoes/overcooked veggies stereotype that hotel banquets are still trying to erase from people’s memories.
“You can tell the difference between a standard banquet plating and a restaurant plating,” explains Sripolpa. “Our goal is to always have restaurant-style plating. For example, a normal banquet plate will be starch first at 12 o’clock, the protein at six o’clock, vegetables at four o’clock, and then the sauce and garnish are added. If you look at a restaurant plate-up, the protein tends to have starch underneath it to give it some height, with an eye-catching garnish on top, and then seasonal vegetables and sauce framing that for a complete look, rather than each item being assigned a section of the plate. Also, food height on the plate needs to be just under the height of plate covers. Otherwise, the presentation will be squashed, so experiment with plating heights and the limits of your plate covers to develop the ideal presentation height for large events.”
The actual vessels used for plate-ups of 2,000 or more should be easy to replace, Sripolpa says. “Because 70% of our events annually are plated—we only have about 30% buffets for groups—we have to keep our inventory simple or it will cost a fortune to replace broken or worn out dishes. We have 20,000 plates dedicated to events, so we use two styles: one is a coupe bowl for pasta dishes and salad entrées for lunch, and the other is a 10-inch plate with about two inches of rim. Both are a simple white, and their patterns are neutral. We originally bought them 18 years ago, so for a hotel our size, we’re saving a lot of money over time by keeping the same plate styles and replacing only when needed, rather than exchanging them every five years for whatever the ‘hot’ pattern happens to be.”
Certain types of proteins hold their temperature and texture better than others, and this should be a consideration, since plating for several thousand people means there will be time in-between the plate-up and service, as opposed to a small event where the plates often go right from the kitchen to the table.
“Overcooking is always a concern, especially when holding before service,” says Sripolpa. “I wouldn’t serve halibut on a large plate-up, for example, because the fish can dry out quickly. We try to use products that can hold from plate-up to around an hour in a hot box, depending on how large the party is. That’s just the reality of plated mega events. The best products for these situations are items that are hard to overcook, like braised short ribs. They’re always tender, and we never get complaints about them.”
Sripolpa adds that they use Rational combi ovens for items that need help retaining their moisture over time. “Those ovens help us a lot, especially when we have plate-ups for 2,000 or more. They keep the product moist and consistent.”
The goal of every chef is to get the food to the guest quickly, with as little time in a hot box as possible, but Sripolpa says tempting time can backfire for huge plated events.
“Many chefs naturally worry about the quality and tend to cook and plate-up at the last minute, but that can be a disaster if you fall behind schedule. You panic and start throwing things all over the plate just to get it out the door, and it looks sloppy to the guest. You have to have a strict timetable planned and stick to it no matter what. We communicate everything clearly to our cooks and stewards, then we write it on a board in the kitchen so everyone can see it. For example, at six o’clock we cook the beef, at 6:15 we grill the vegetables, and so on. We’ve built in a cushion in case something pops up, and for a large plated event, there are often unforeseen logistical challenges that you have to overcome.”